We live in the Anthropocene, the era in which human activity first begins to have a visible impact on the fossil record, the climate, and the geology, of the planet. Well, good for us. The Anthropocene is marked by, among other things, mass extinctions of animals across the board, including from overfishing, hunting, and destruction of natural habitats. Racing Extinction, from The Cove director Louie Psihoyos, sets out to document these phenomena; plus the activities of various activists attempting, in various ways, to do something about it; and to urge its viewers to change their own lifestyles.
To that end, the film uses a familiar here’s-the-bad-news/here’s-the-awful-news/here’s-the-bit-that-inspires-you-to-positive-change structure. We are first introduced to a group of undercover activists who expose the illegal trade in the meat of endangered species, both in the United States and China. This is an exciting, novel topic for a documentary film but, since most of don’t buy illegal meat in the first place, it’s used more as a hook to introduce the topic of extinction, the documentary’s main theme. This takes us on to a long, dry-ish scientific documentary on the causes of extinction and its impact on ecosystems; the consensus is broadly pessimistic. Then we get into the feel-good portion of the film, with a slightly irrelevant plug for Elon Musk and his electric Tesla Motors, a meeting with what is surely the only environmentally-conscious NASCAR driver in the world, and even good old Jane Goodall herself. Earlier on, the picture had shown us how tourism had successfully supplanted the fishing of endangered manta rays in a small Indonesian village. The suggestion is that we can all be like those Indonesian fishermen and adapt our lifestyles in ways that will make them more sustainable. There is room, perhaps, for cynicism, because it was economics rather than ethics that drove the lifestyle change for that village; on the other hand, that may be a good thing to bear in mind anyway for those who would see a change in world economics.
Finally, the film reels off several suggestions for small changes we could all make. Racing Extinction exists within the mainstream, and its makers are conscious that most don’t want to radically alter their lifestyles. Give up eating meat just one day a week, the picture suggests. Why not, as long as you’re not planning to make up the deficit on the other six days of the week?
Despite an occasional lack of focus, the film delivers best when it comes on with the eye and the spirit of a naturalist, with memorable images of the majesty of, say, the manta ray, accompanied by ANOHNI’s Oscar-nominated song – who could possibly stand to see manta rays fall extinct?
Racing Extinction became available on DVD on the 28th March, are you planning on checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!